Guelder rose – a wild super fruit that smells like old socks

I went out yesterday with my beloved on a quest for some lush rose hips. The sun was shining, the breeze cool, church bells ringing out in the distance, and the human world quiet and calm.

It reminded me of when I was a boy. Of how Sunday’s used to feel before the advent of Sunday opening times. Where instead of spending nourishing nurturing time with family and friends, most folk now exist in a seven day hell of adrenalised work schedules and shallow shopping experiences.

Thank goodness the plants aren’t quite so bonkers!

As is often the case when I go foraging, while my brain likes to try and dictate to me what I intend to gather… life has a different plan for me.

And so it was yesterday.

Brain was saying “find rosehips”, but body guided me elsewhere. The elsewhere being to a community of Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus).

If you haven’t noticed Guelder rose, its most probably because when you see the bright, translucent berries unconscious mutterings from a parental authority whisper to you… “danger… red berries… avoid… poisonous”.

Or you simply haven’t noticed it before…

Contrary to its name, Guelder rose is not a rose. Formerly it was a member of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) but has recently been moved to a new family called Adoxa… you’ve got to love those crazy botanists and there new fangled genetic sequencing.

The Woodland Trust have a good description of Guelder rose here .

And it is also technically poisonous… if the fruits are eaten raw. But cooked and you’ll be experiencing something few folk have ever bothered tasting.

The berries when crushed have a strange smell, certainly one that doesn’t immediately incline you to befriend this plant. And when cooked they smell of musty old socks.

If you dab a drop of the raw juice on your tongue, you might recoil in disgust as the bitterness hits you.

But as I like to say to folk on my courses “The plant is never the problem, you are”.

And so it is with Guelder rose, you need to figure out how to use the cooked berries. Traditionally the fruits have been used during the Winter months in Russia, Ukraine, and various Eastern & North European countries.

The fruits are antimicrobial and antibacterial. It contains large amounts of quercetin, a flavonoid which plays an important role in fighting free radical damage, as well as being great as an anti-inflammatory. Needless to say bigPharma is actively researching the fruits for new medicines.

That all aside… the fruits rock when prepared properly.

Currently I have a muslin cloth dripping away in my kitchen, containing my own Guelder rose experiment, which is a jelly… hopefully delicious, and one that will go well on hot buttered toast or with game or a Sunday roast.

Here’s the guelder rose recipe.


  1. Believe it or not, I eat them raw, up to 20 berries at a time. Bitterness is good for digestion and is calming, common knowledge. Gueldar rose bitterness is better than the coffee one as coffee is addictive.
    I also grow my own gueldar rose plant, but it’s entire crop isn’t enough to get me over winter months, so I have to surf nearby lowlands and lakes and websites trying to get more of a good thing.

  2. Thanks, great stuff!

    I also eat them raw. I come from Alaska, and live here in London now. Trying hard to learn my new neighbors. We call it “Highbush Cranberry” in Alaska, (and Crampbark). I was taught from childhood that the berries are perfectly edible, just SPIT OUT THE POISONOUS SEEDS. Don’t know how true that is, but I have eaten tons. They are abundant, and only really good after the first frost (like the “lowbush cranberry” (which is also not a cranberry but Lingonberry…))


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